A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.— Bob Dylan, American singer-songwriter
“Hancur badan ditelan tanah, budi baik di kenang juga!” is the most appropriate Malay proverb for our Sarawak heroes.
It means that a man’s noble sacrifice must never be forgotten, even after he is buried.
As we welcomed 58 years of independence, we must never forget the brave Sarawakians for the peace we enjoy today.
Our heroes were from the members of the original Sarawak Rangers, Sarawak Constabulary, Border Scouts and Special Branch undercover agents.
Today, only a handful the battle-scarred veterans who rallied to the call to defend Malaysia have been remembered for their sacrifices.
Malaysia was formed during a turbulent period because Indonesia’s President Sukarno had declared ‘Konfrontasi’ (Confrontation) in 1963.
During the Confrontation, Indonesia’s Tentera Nasional Indonesia teamed up with Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI) leader Dr Subandrio and Sarawak communists.
It was a bitter war as British and Malaysian security forces fought it out with communist insurgents in the rural outback.
Later, with the backing of the anti-communist student movement, General Suharto and Malaysia’s Tun Razak signed a peace accord in August 1966.
But the ‘war’ with the communist terrorists was not over because it spilled over into Sarawak where the North Kalimantan Communist Party (NKCP) set up headquarters.
Between 1970 and 1973, the insurgency had spread to the Iban hinterland where communism was rejected by the natives.
On Feb 25, 1972, they tortured and killed Penghulu Imban Medan at Nanga Sekuau near Sibu.
To drive fear into the longhouse inhabitants, they cut off the old chief’s genitals before shooting him in the head.
In the towns, they killed or injured about 30 Special Branch officers, especially during family gatherings such as Chinese New Year eve.
However, by early 1973, the NKCP realised they were fighting a losing battle.
NKCP secretary-general Bong Kee Chok signed the Sri Aman peace accord in October 1973 with chief minister Datuk Abdul Rahman Yakub leading to the surrender of 570 CTs.
I wrote a book titled ‘Crimson Tide Over Borneo — Untold police stories and the Cessation of the Sarawak Communist insurgency’ detailing most of the events during this period.
I discovered that the families of at least 200 security personnel, and 1,000 Border Scouts and Special Branch officers, who were killed or injured, were bitter with the government.
Many Sarawakians lost their limbs and had to seek employment on their own while a handful became security guards.
Others returned to their villages and became farmers, eking a hand-to-mouth existence.
Over the years, I have noted that even though about 30 Sarawakian heroes have received colonial and federal awards, about 90 percent have not received state awards.
As far as I know, only five, George Cross recipient Awang anak Raweng, Supt Johnny Mustapha, Malaysian Ranger Regiment Army Warrant Officers Kanang anak Langkau and Mering Imang and Police Field Force Sub Inspector Ngalinuh Bala.
An Iban tracker, Awang received the Panglima Setia Bintang Sarawak (Commander of the Most Exalted Order of the Star of Sarawak) which carried the title of ‘Dato’ in 2018.
Police Field Force battalion commander Johnny, who was killed in an ambush in Stabau in Sibu, was bestowed ‘Datuk Amar’ posthumously in 2018.
Malaysia’s most decorated heroes whom won both Malaysia’s highest award for gallantry Seri Pahlawan Gagah Perkasa and Panglima Gagah Berani’s Warrant Officer Kanang anak Langkau received a Sarawak “Datuk” award after he retired.
Sub-Inspector Ngalinuh Bala was accorded a state award in 2018 — 46 years after he and Cpl Itim Bijam fought off 50 terrorists who ambushed his convoy.
In July, Ngalinuh was promoted to the rank of Sgt Major.
Even though Cpl Itim did not have a promotion, he was lucky to have received the SP because initially, he was not nominated for the award.
However, his superior PFF commander Johnny Mustapha insisted that Itim’s name be included for his role in the duo’s four-hour battle against 50 CTs.
At present, Miri-based Itim, who is Sarawak’s sole surviving SP recipient, is one of the nation’s remaining five SPP holders.
Due to the pandemic, Cpl Itim was not invited to attend Malaysia’s ‘Hari Pahlawan’ (Hero’s Day) ceremony on July 31.
Since he earned the medal for valour in 1972, Itim has been conveniently forgotten and left out in the cold.
Sometimes, brave old soldiers who refuse to die, are just left to graze in the pastures.
The views expressed are those of the columnist and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.